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Sixteen Thousand Years

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

In the age of big numbers we have recently witnessed an awesome but sad statistic.

An article in the Economist noted that the loony music video “Gangnam Style” surpassed two billion views on YouTube a few weeks ago, making it the most watched clip of all time.

At 4:12 minutes, that equates to more than 140 million hours, or more than 16,000 years!

To understand this major figure we can look at other achievements that might have been forgone in the time spent watching a sideways shuffle?

It took 50m man-hours to complete the “super-carrier” USS Gerald Ford last year. Had people not been watching this South Korean music video — they could have constructed three such ships. Alternatively ,they could have built more than four Great Pyramids of Giza, or six Burj Khalifas in Dubai (the world’s tallest building).

Sometimes we have ‘time on our hands’ and don’t realise how powerful that time is. Imagine the achievement that could be garnered with the combined time we have.

Moshe Rabeinu understood that his time was fast approaching. As a great leader he wished to ensure that in his life time, the leadership would smoothly pass on.

Moshe spoke to the Lord, saying: “Let the Lord, the G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Bamidbar 27:15-17).

The Midrash explains that when the daughters of Zelophchad inherited from their father, Moshe argued: “The time is opportune for me to demand my own needs. If daughters inherit, it is surely right that my sons should inherit my glory.” The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: “Whoever tends the fig-tree shall eat of its fruit; and he that waits on his master shall be honoured.” (Mishlei 27:18) Your sons sat idly by and did not study the Torah. Yehoshua served you diligently and he showed you great honour. It was he who rose early in the morning and remained late at night at your House of Study; he would arrange the benches, and spread the mats. Seeing that he has served you with all his might, he is worthy to serve Israel, for he shall not lose his reward.” (Midrash Rabah – Bamidbar 21:14)

Yehoshua was chosen as the next leader above the children of Moshe.

The Midrash emphasises his quality as a person who rose early and remained late at night, arranging the study hall for people to enjoy and learn from Moshe Rabenu.

What was so important about this act? Surely he did other acts that enabled him to be the next leader. Did he not show might, combat abilities or great vocal qualities? Why the emphasis on waking early and arranging benches?

The Gemara Succot (28) cites a Braita: It happened that Rabbi Eliezer spent the Shabbat in Upper Galilee, and they asked him for thirty decisions in the laws of Succah. Of twelve of these he said, “I have heard them” (and then he told them the decisions); of eighteen he said, “I have not heard.” Rabbi Yossi ben Yehudah said: Reverse the words: Of eighteen he said, “I have heard them”; of twelve he said, “I have not heard them.”

They asked him, “Are all your words only things of what you have heard?”

He answered, “You wish to force me to say something which I have not heard from my teachers?” [He then continued to tell them about his standards.] “During all my life, no man preceded me to the Study Hall; I never slept or napped in the Study Hall; nor did I ever leave a person in the Study Hall when I went out (for I was the last to leave); nor did I ever utter frivolous speech; nor have I ever in my life said a thing which I did not hear from my teachers.”

This is a very interesting encounter.

The people in Upper Galilee had just asked the great Rabbi Eliezer many questions regarding the laws of Succah. He was able to answer some but left a few unanswered. They challenged him. He was after all a Tanna and had been learning for many years. How was it possible he didn’t know these Halachot?

Rabbi Eliezer answered saying that he had replied to their questions with the knowledge he knew. He then went on to tell them a whole introduction to his life. It seems he was saying to them how great he was, but does this really have relevance over here?

Our Sages explain that when the people in the Upper Galilee saw that he did not have all the responses, they gave him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you were not in the Bet Hamidrash when Rabbi  Yochanan Ben Zakai taught. Perhaps you had a hard day and were sleeping in, or came late. Maybe you were talking to someone whilst the Rabbi was giving Shiur and missed out on these Halachot. Rabbi Eliezer replied that he was attentive to every possible moment that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai was teaching.

“I opened the Bet Hamidrash in the early morning and closed it late at night. I didn’t sleep even for a second whilst learning. I was never talking mundane things whilst learning. I have gone through the years and there is no possibility that something was being taught and I missed out.”

That was the greatness of Rabbi Eliezer.

When Moshe Rabeinu went up to Har Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, he was accompanied by Yehoshua.

Yehoshua did not go all the way up, but was closer to Moshe than the rest of the camp.

Our Sages ask why didn’t Yehoshua return to the camp and come back after forty days to accompany Moshe on his return. Why did he wait alone, close to Moshe for all that time?

Yehoshua made sure he was there every second of the day to accompany and learn from Moshe.

He valued every second accompanying him and even waiting there.

He reckoned that if Hashem decided that Moshe should come back a bit early, he wanted to be there. He did not want to miss a second with Moshe and was prepared to wait at the foot of the mountain for his teacher just so that he would benefit from those extra minutes with him.

That was why Yehoshua was chosen.

That’s called Mevakesh, someone who seeks, doesn’t want to miss out.

Yehoshua arranged the benches; he was looking out and taking care of his people. At the same time, he understood that every moment is divine and important. If Moshe would enter the Bet Hamidrash and the benches would not be arranged, this would take time and a few minutes of Moshe Rabeinu’s Torah would be lost. He arose early and went to bed late in order to make the most of time.

All these were signs that showed his real personality, his inner desire to help and care for others, as well as to value time.

Next time you are ‘bored’ or figure you have ‘time on your hands’ imagine the combination of all this time and what it could achieve.

Time is of the essence, no time like the present!

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